LaFAYETTE, Ga. — Sweet smells of sugary corn blended with the bite of distilled alcohol wafted over Cane Creek here Wednesday as sheriff’s deputies dismantled a moonshine still, and perhaps a piece of history.
Illicit distilling mostly is a bygone chapter of the Prohibition era, especially for deputies more versed on meth labs than whiskey stills.
But Sheriff’s Sgt. Pat Cook said law enforcement’s colorful past and present can collide.
“Moonshine cooks beget dope growers, and dope growers beget meth cooks,” he said. “It’s a lineage we don’t appreciate. It’s neat to see this and it looks like a piece of living history, but it’s against the law.”
Staff Photo by Kelly Wegel-- Members of the Walker County special operations group empty barrels of fermenting corn and barley mash while destroying a moonshine still they found in the woods behind Waterville Baptist Church in Walker County, Ga., Wednesday.
The Walker County Sheriff’s Department does not have any suspects, and Sgt. Cook said moonshine making would lead only to misdemeanor charges. State revenue agents will be notified because the illegal liquor was not taxed, but federal officials are not expected to be involved, he said.
Sgt. Cook said he has seen three moonshine operations in his 15-year career, but most officers said Wednesday’s bust was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The find was rare enough for officers to contemplate preserving the still, perhaps offering pieces of it to a museum.
Investigators did not know what to expect when they were tipped off about the still. Deputies with rifles drawn entered the wooded area behind Waterville Baptist Church about 10 a.m. and tiptoed through the chilly waters of Cane Creek before stumbling upon the liquor operation.
The still, hidden under a green tarpaulin and thick brush, sat blocking a hilly trail that leads back to a rickety red cabin with a rusty tin roof.
The 154-acre property is owned by Jim Dendy, who said he was surprised when police found the moonshine operation.
“I’m an outdoorsman and I hunt back here all the time, and I had no idea,” Mr. Dendy said as he carried trash away from the still.
Officers said they believe that white lightning, as moonshine often is called, has been produced in this hollow for several years.
Indentations were burrowed into the ridge to accommodate three 55-gallon drums full of mash, made with sugar, corn, barley and hops. Steps were worn into the red clay leading up from the creek.
Two stainless steel cooking pots were found, one still active and another that was discarded on the creek bank.
Investigators estimate the still is between 2 and 5 years old.
Moonshine is made by cooking the mash in a large barrel and channeling the steam through two cooling instruments, one called a thumper box because of its rattling noise and another called a worm. When the steam is converted back into liquid, it becomes liquor.
The cooks used propane tanks as a heating source.
“Your best liquor cooks would probably run it through and cook it one more time,” Sgt. Cook said. “Cooking moonshine is probably just like your mom baking a cake: It’s whatever their recipe is.”
Sgt. Cook said the liquor can be dangerous to drink, especially if made with primitive methods such as using a car radiator as a filter.
Not much of the clear liquid was found at the still Wednesday.
A small amount of liquor sloshed inside gallon jugs and Mason jars. A wine bottle held a majority of the finished product.
“We found a little sippin’ whiskey, sheriff,” Officer Dewayne Llewellyn said as Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson led a group of reporters to the still.
Sheriff Wilson shook the wine bottle, watched as the clear concoction bubbled a bit, then he twisted off the cap for everyone to smell it.
“Anybody thirsty?” an officer quipped as the bottle made its rounds.
There were plenty of laughs throughout the day, as officers posed for pictures in front of the still before using a pickax to destroy it.
Yellow heaps of mash dumped on the ground will become a tantalizing treat for deer and turkey, Sgt. Cook said.
An all-terrain vehicle was used to haul the remnants of the still away, and it was stored at a local fire hall.
“It’s a nice piece of history to see,” Sgt. Cook said. “We’re walking in the steps of our forefathers of law enforcement.”
E-mail Ryan Harris at email@example.com
n The last Walker County sheriff killed in the line of duty, Albert Catron, was chasing moonshine makers on Lookout Mountain in 1922.
n In August 2007, two men were indicted on charges of running a moonshine still in Georgia’s Chattahoochee National Forest.
n President Bush in 2006 pardoned a Georgia man with a 1960s moonshining conviction. Randall Deal of Rabun County, Ga., was an extra in the film “Deliverance.”
n A historian for New Georgia Encyclopedia estimates that in 1876 illegal liquor accounted for 80 percent of the federal law enforcement efforts in the North Georgia mountains.
n In his biography of Hank Williams, author Roger Williams said Georgia in the 1920s and 30s was the No. 1 moonshine state, and Atlanta was known as the moonshine capital of the world. A pint sold for 35 cents to 75 cents.
Source: News reports